Archive for October 25th, 2007

The Myth of “Co-Management” in Venezuela

October 25, 2007

I have written before about the failure of the project of cooperatives in the robolution, which are a drain on resources and take away many rights from the workers. This article about Alcasa and Invepal proves that this is part of the silly economic schemes of the autocrat.

The Myth of “Co-Management” in Venezuela

by El Libertario, Venezuela

Thursday, Oct 25 2007, 1:39pm

Reflections on Alcasa and Invepal

*
With a lot of rhetoric and propaganda the Chavez administration has
advanced different examples of co-management which, they claim,
demonstrate their desire to transform Venezuela’s relations of
production. A compańero from Europe visited us recently and got to know
two of the most celebrated cases: Alcasa and Invepal. Here is the
report he prepared for El Libertario # 51 about the actual working
conditions in the country’s most “important” co-managed businesses.

Alcasa
is an Aluminum factory located in Ciudad Guayana, some 800 km
south-east of Caracas. According to official accounts it is an example
“par-excellance” of co-management. In order to “change the relations of
production” inside the factory the government placed it under the
control of a “revolutionary” manager — an old-guard activist of the
radical left whose ideological discourse is influenced by elements of
the Frankfurt School and sprinkled with references to the marxist,
anti-lennist, Pannekoek.

Alcasa employs some 3,000 workers. To begin with, the factory (like
others in the country such as the privately run company SIDOR) ought to
be immediately shut-down due to its un-healthy working conditions.
After 20 years of service in the plant, workers resemble the
walking-dead, contaminated by the high-grade aluminum dust which slowly
devours their lungs. Never mind that the whole world knows about the
lethal side-effects of aluminum dust, the situation at Alcasa continues
unchanged. For their part, the workers argue that they need to feed
their families and earn enough money to live on after their customary
20 years of service to the company is over. Not surprisingly, they have
rejected the initial offer management made on their behalf: the typical
far-left proposal of reducing the hours of the working week. The
worker’s claim that this reduction would lead to the creation of an
entirely new shift-rotation and eliminate the possibility of their
earning over-time. The management has drawn the political conclusion
from this rejection that the workers are “too egotistical,” that they
are “only interested in money,” and, therefore, are in need of
political-ideological re-training in the classroom. The refusal of
workers to quietly accept their program apparently “confirms” for them
Pannekoek´s thesis that sindicalism impedes the formation of class
consciousness.

Much of the machinery Alcasa bought when the company was founded some
40 years ago is still in service, and even the “modern” equipment is at
least 20 years old. The technology is obsolete and some of it is no
longer functional. Production capacity is scarcely running at 60%.
Although supply has continued to meet demand on the market, the
international price of aluminum has stagnated in recent years and the
financial loss to the company has been enormous. It appears, however,
that neither the state nor company management has efficiency or profit,
in the capitalist sense, as its ultimate objective. In private,
management complains that ministerial bureaucracy blocks the financing
necessary for technological renovation while inside the factory they
continue their courses dedicated to political-ideology. Management has
contracted private personnel to lead their re-education sessions: old
militants from the same political group as the factory’s director.
Workers are invited to attend these meetings for up to one week — and
eventually longer — while receiving time-off from their jobs with pay.
An example of the discussions that take place are the difference
between Normative Planning (“Bourgeois”) and Strategic Planning
(“Revolutionary”) citing Marx, Gramsci, Adorno, etc., without
introducing into the discussion any concrete issues facing workers
inside the Alcasa factory.

The Wage Policy

Within the factory saleries vary according to qualification and
senority —there are significant differences between employees. The
workers do, however, receive a relatively high wage. The entry-level
salery is approximately 500 Euros — three times the minimum-wage — and
the medium salary is double this amount. But there is hardly a trace of
the co-management announced at the outset of the project. At the
initiation of co-management in 2005, three representatives per-workshop
were elected and one year later there is only one: who only visits his
fellow-workers on occassion. There is already no place for round-table
debates about working conditions and “team assemblies” only occupy
themselves with questions such as how to keep the bathrooms clean and
distribute work-clothes. If a worker were asked what co-management has
done for them, they would not have a clear answer. They would say, “its
good,” “we raised production,” etc., or simply “we’re still working the
same as always.” If one insisted on a more concrete response they might
hear, “It’s better if I don’t say anything, I don’t want to have any
problems.” Never would it occur to them to mention any serious
participation in the strategic decisions concerning the process of
production or administration of the factory. On the contrary, for some
the situation has actually deteriorated: for those workers from the old
buisnesses who orgainzed themselves into cooperatives during the era of
out-sourcing in order to retain their jobs.

These cooperative workers (some 600) are put to work directly in the
process of production in the same manner as the other employees of the
factory but are excluded from the “co-management.” They are not able to
use the company’s autobuses to travel to and from work and are not able
to eat in the cafeteria. They do not receive extra benefits such as the
end of the year bonus (equal to 3 or 4 months salary) and when they
become sick, they lose their pay. These workers are not protected by
the collective contract but are instead paid by the cooperative which
has an independent service contract with Alcasa. As a consequence each
cooperative worker receives a specific sum of money for a specificly
designated task and nothing more. It is evident that the cooperatives
function as a form of micro-business which only perpetuates the
precarious status of labor in the cororate world. Even more troubling
is the fact that members of different cooperatives rarely communicate
with one another and have failed to collectively denounce their
situation. Each is left alone with their anger and frustration. The
other worker’s at Alcasa only demonstrate their solidarity with these
casualized laborers in a distant, abstract way: after all, “the
administration already tried to improve their situation.” And the
response to a cooperative worker who complains about their plight? To
participate in the “political” courses we refered to earlier!

Invepal: A Paper Factory

Located in Morón, some 200 kms east of Caracas, this business was
closed by its previous owner. The workers fought for two years to keep
their jobs before it was finally expropriated by the State (with a
large compensation going to its proprietor) and transformed into a
co-managed business. The nearly 400 workers were asked to form a
cooperative and purchase 49% of the companies shares with the remaining
51% going to the State. To accomplish this, the cooperative took out a
loan with a private bank. For its part, Invepal subcontracted as many
positions as it deemed necessary for the operation of the company (and
who therefore were not part of the cooperative). In total, they
employed some 650 workers.

The equipment at Invepal is the same as was originally installed when
the factory opened in 1957. It is totally obsolete and in a state of
disrepair. The capacity of the machinery is running at an abismal 20%.
This is in part due to a defective internal electricity generator and
the irregular delivery of raw materials from Argentina and Colombia. In
total the loses are estimated to be more than 2 million Euros a year
and the factory continues to operate only thanks to the help of the
State. We can see that the logic of “welfare” has simply taken the
place of the capitalist logic of “production.”

The state, with its 51%, has absolute control over the administration
of the factory (the manager is also the Minister of Labor) and hardly
passes on any information to workers in the cooperatives. Because their
previous representatives simply tolerated this state-of-affairs, at the
beginning of 2006 the cooperative workers elected new, more radical
management who are in constant conflict with Invepal — although the
actual situation has not changed substantially. Under the new
administration, the volume of production has remained essentially the
same. The cooperative workers have weekly meetings in which they
oraginze the work of each section — without supervision or department
heads — and they are much more happy with the climate on the factory
floor. Invepal’s management has yet to interfere in this autonomous
process but when the workers received their end of the year bonus for
2006 it was less (3 months salary) than the previous year (4 months).
In reply the workers took to the streets in a rage, protesting the
reduction by blocking traffic. Considering that in the final analysis
management fails to give much importance to the process of production,
nobody thought to declare themselves “on strike” because under these
circumstances it is not an effective form of pressure. Furthermore,
they were not able to take legal action since they are not protected by
any form of collective contract; at the end of the day they are a
member of a cooperative and they are simply working as “co-proprietors”
of the business. One might add to this the fact that everyone in the
cooperative receives the same salary: a situation not exactly the
result of a decision making process based on solidarity! Even the
workers themselves consider this arrangement to be unjust. They resent
it as a negative consequence of their participation in a cooperative.

Workers are now placing their hopes in the preperation and
implimentation of a series of statutes which will, at last,
definitively clarify their rights as working members of the
cooperative. When we ask their opinion respecting co-management, they
reply: “This is the same as always, the level of exploitation was the
same before as it is now.” Moreover, because the cooperative has not
been able to pay its debts to the banks, the business (or as the case
may be, the State) has needed to pay it for them. The end result is
that the cooperative workers are now financially endebted to Invepal.

The workers have not heard anything about the film, “5 factories:
Working-class control in Venezuela,” which was filmed at Invepal and
extensively exhibited abroad, especially in Europe! In spite of the
critiques that workers have of the Minister of Labor/Manager of
Invepal, they supported the re-election of Chávez. On the occassion of
a visit from the state television channel, they decided not to say
anything about what has been transpiring at the factory in order not to
slander the image of their favored candidate.

October 2007

El Libertario (in Spanish & English): http://www.nodo50.org/ellibertario

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